Location: Caradan's quarters
The USS Tornado was finally on it's way back home. The last few days had been spent making the long journey back. Riaan had set up sensors in Caradan's room to monitor the Changling. Partly to collect valuable data on how a Changling recovered from serious injuries. Mostly to let Riaan keep tabs on how Caradan doing when she had to be elsewhere.
She had spent a lot of time just sitting next to the bucket with a scanner and taking notes. Sometimes she would just look out the window at the stars passing and think. Caradan hadn't been much for talking and Riaan was quiet by nature.
The only difference in Caradan’s quarters from the last time Riaan visited was that Caradan was not in her bowl, regenerating. She was standing by the window looking out at the stars streaking by. Her duffle was packed and ready to go though they still had some time before reaching Earth. Besides, there was nothing in her duffle she needed. All her clothing she mimicked herself and her devices, like her tricorder and PADD, she generally stored within her being. Those things were lying by her nightstand beside her bed which she had never used, not even once.
Caradan recalled Mindo’s visit earlier and what they talked about. If she had the opportunity to do it all over again, she would have done it all the same way. Her feelings remained unchanged. Her philosophy, unchanged.
Caradan’s shift on the Bridge went just as she expected it to. Aside from the regular hum of the ship, those hours were spent in near silence with barely a word being spoken. The personnel was expecting their XO to be recovering but they hardly expected one as cold as stone and one who sat in the chair almost as stone for hours on end. That was how Caradan spent her shift; sitting still, not really listening to the goings-on around her, handing out no orders and not really commanding. The course was set and Caradan’s shift started with her taking her seat, went by with her just sitting there, and ended as she stood and stepped away as Elena arrived for her shift.
Caradan returned to her quarters and stepped straight up to where she stood then and there. Without knowledge of the passage of time, she simply stood there and looked out at the void. Not at the light show of warp speed as they sped along, but beyond that into the dark void beyond.
She was again scratching at her left wrist. Her right thumb had taken on the form of a dull knife and she was slowly digging into herself. Caradan even produced a few nerve-endings so she would feel it. The pain was nothing like what she had to perpetually endure at the hands of her Klingon torturers. Something about this pain felt right and how could something so right be wrong. That pain turned fiery hot as she finally broke through her skin. Caradan looked from the empty void to her wrist covered in crimson throbbing away its protest of what she had done. It was only mimicked blood, brought on by a mimicked knife, but the pain was real though it was fleeting. A simple thought later and Caradan was her old self again; free from any visible scars. From simple observation, anyone would not be able to tell the horrors she witnessed and endured. She felt that perhaps Riaan would have an inkling, after her own upbringing at the hands of a monster.
In keeping with her promise to herself, Caradan refused to once again mimic a human so perfectly. She was again her pasty self with unmoving hair and sans the features and blemishes average humans possessed. Caradan appeared as she had when she first set foot on the Tornado.
Riaan returned from her meeting, and pressed the chime to let Caradan know she was there.
Caradan did not say anything nor make the slightest movement. She simply stood there. Since Riaan had been letting herself in to look after her, Caradan knew Riaan was given said clearance. She would let herself in again. It did not even cross Caradan’s mind that it would be a surprise for Riaan to see her up and about. She was too engrossed in her own thoughts. The pain of the memories fresh in her mind held her captive and refused to grant respite.
Riaan stepped quietly into the room, looking first at the bucket that Caradan had been sleeping in. Then at Caradan, "Oh." She said, slightly surprised. "Good, your awake."
She moved closer to Caradan. "Are you ok?" She asked softly.
Caradan moved slightly and turned her head in the direction of Riaan without actually turning to look at her. She had a good idea now of what Riaan had gone through and why she was so defensive when they first met. All those walls and defenses as a result of painful experiences were now suddenly surrounding Caradan.
“I’m ok.” She didn’t smile. Caradan didn’t feel like. Nor did she feel there would be a scenario to smile at ever again. “Just finished a shift on the Bridge.” A shift in which she sat still and in utter silence. She knew there were still some aboard who retained animosity toward Changelings. Even a decade was apparently not enough for every to forgive and forget. Maybe some part of them felt gratitude for Caradan’s hardships. She felt that maybe, whilst she sat there in the middle of the Bridge, just maybe, “everyone was looking at me,” she said barely audible.
Caradan straightened but did not return to looking out into the void. Her eyes moved around as though searching for something to look at, something to latch onto. But there was nothing but those days of pain overshadowing all her time aboard the Tornado. All her time of better memories were overpowered in just a matter of days. “And that is not even the worst about all this,” she said, adding words to her own thoughts.
Riaan had hurt too much in her life to believe Caradan when she said that she was ok. The Klingons had tortured her badly, and Riaan had a lot of the data on exactly how badly. She wasn't sure how deep the psychological scars went, but by the way she was acting, they seemed deep.
Riaan slipped beside Caradan to look out at the stars. She slipped her hand gently into Caradan's to reassure her that Riaan was there for her. "What is the worst?" Riaan asked, letting Caradan direct the conversation and say what she needed to say.
Caradan was no stranger to anxiety from having to deal with the animosity over the years away from the Link, and she studied it extensively because of her relationship with Riaan, but an unexpected torrent came over her as Riaan grabbed her hand. Despite the gentleness Riaan displayed, a nearly uncontrollable urge to escape came over Caradan. Nearly uncontrollable because she fought against it; an inner war of emotions within her nearly erupting to explosive proportions.
All that came out through a tremble in her hand as Riaan took hold. That, and Caradan’s form turned cold.
She did manage to maintain form and looked down at her trembling hand, willing it to stop.
“The worse part,” she gave Riaan a quick glance then looked back out at the void. “Changelings remember things a bit differently than you solids. Things are harder to forget and experiences stay with us a lot longer. On top of all that, the Great Link grants us a collective memory. The exact second one of us returns to the Link, the whole species knows and lives all those memories right then and there.”
Caradan finally turned to Riaan. “The stasis device forced upon me, the stabbings and beatings, being dragged from one holodeck to another only to watch you and the others die over and over again, the…” she almost stopped herself from saying it, “…the rape,” she looked away, “all of it Riaan. All of it will be known to all my kind within the Link the second I set a toe into that ocean.” She continued detailing the awful scenario that would play out in the event of her return. “Unless you have a plan to deal with an entire population of Changlings bent on wreaking havoc that will make the Dominion War look like a schoolyard fight,” she was shaking her head, “I can never return to the Link.”
Riaan was quiet, listening to what Caradan said. However, she was also further down the road then Caradan was from the trauma that had scarred her. She held Caradan's cold hand as she thought. Composing her words and saying them carefully but wholeheartedly.
She took a breath. "Caradan, you might not have that choice. You may not go to the link, the link may come for you. You said that Changlings remember things longer and are harder to forget. I'm Cardassian and Bajoran, both of my species hold grudges until they die of old age, then have them stuffed and mounted. Cardassians hold grudges for generations. Hell, the Hebitians died out several thousand years ago and we still have our grudges against them. Bajorans nurture their grudges more then their children. A huge amount of our scriptures can be boiled down to 'Grudges are bad.'"
"The universe holds a great deal of truly cruel individuals. I have had the misfortune like you of having spent too much time in their 'care'. It is good to remember that those people exist. However, one can never forget that good people exist as well in the universe. Good people like Ziara, Mindo, Elena, Ryoko, and hundreds more I don't have time to mention. People that you can care for and will care for you if you give them the chance."
"We are more then the sum of our biology. We aren't machines, but choosing things. Orions broke me. Not just any Orions, but Deloria's family. When I came aboard this ship, she terrified me. So did Elena, I was nauseous to even be in the same room as either of them. However, I chose to overcome my biology and I have. Elena is a dear friend."
"When you return to the link, you will remember them. You will remember the beatings, and the stabbings, and the deaths, and the rapes. You will also remember the friends, and allies, and your kiith, and your kin. Not just the ones you have now, here on the Tornado, but the ones that will come in the future."
"And if the link holds a grudge, let them also remember that grudges are overcome. That a Bajoran and Cardassian can overcome her biology and be friends with an Orion. That hate can be replaced by love."
Riaan held Caradan's hand and knelt. "The great link has a long memory, then let them remember this. I love you. You have made my life better and happier in so many ways. For every time they hit you, I will kiss you. For every time they stabbed you, I will hold you close. For every time they forced you to watch us die, I will show you what family means. For every time you were raped, I will show you the joy of making love. When you are broken, I will help piece you together again. When you fall, I will pick you up."
Caradan pulled her hand free with a force she decided was too much. Stepping back and away from Riaan, she did not apologize but maintained eye contact. “You,” she began to wring her hands, “you don’t know what you are saying. Because,” she started into a slow pace, “I…I lied to you. Before I left, when we met, you said you should come along. I made it sound like the mission would go smoother if I went it alone. I promised you I would be careful.” Or was that Mindo? Caradan shook that minute confusion from her head. “The entire time though, I had every intention on exposing myself as a Changeling. The report that I am working on to you and to Starfleet both say that I had a momentary loss of control, but…” she stopped pacing and looked away, “I knew what I was doing. When the confusion began, as captains and generals were running about, I took on many of their forms and, by the time I made my exit, they were slaughtering each other. Still, I exposed myself. I just…I could not run fast enough. I guess that is really the worse part. The fact that I lied to you.”
“No,” she said immediately, because there was more. “That was not the worse. Once I was captured they cut me open and stuck that infernal device inside me. I didn’t realize it at first and I healed my form. Once it was buzzing away in my chest, I became terrified. The regular beatings had not even begun yet, but I…Riaan, I offered them the Tornado’s shield modulation. I offered them the ability to fire through our shields just because…because I was afraid and had already broken.”
Riaan was surprised when Caradan withdrew her hand, she just stood by the window, very still, and listened to Caradan. "I forgive you." She said, moving a step closer to Caradan.
“No,” she withdrew, “stay away.”
Riaan stopped and let Caradan continue.
Caradan’s face and voice both took on angry measures. “And what is worse than having a group of Klingons laughing at you? They didn’t want the shield modulation. They did not ask me any questions at all. I broke before they even started working me over. I broke before it started and offered them a way to destroy this ship and kill everyone. You see, I broke immediately. That was the worse part of it all.”
“Oh,” she almost laughed at herself for carrying on thus, “no the absolute worse part of it all is this.” Her voice calmed and she stood there, indignantly, almost angry with Riaan for foolishly befriending someone so weak and terrible. “When they started on me, when the captain turned his back, before then actually…when I was first transported onto that ship, when I was captured…I did not even fight them. Yeah I allowed them to cut on me some, but only to remind them of my abilities…that they could not actually hurt me. But once they turned that device on,” she was shaking her head and looking at her hands. She balled them into tight fists as though wanting to punch something. She wanted to punch herself. “I begged. I begged before Klingons. I pleaded with them. I did not even fight back. When they were rap…when I was laid down, they did not restrain me at all. Even then did I not fight back.” Her voice almost turned into a yell. “I just laid there and let them…” She turned fully away from Riaan. Riaan still had that look of sympathy and friendship. Caradan felt she did not deserve that. So, she had to look away.
Riaan listened, the anger in Caradan's voice making her want to shut down and withdraw. She wasn't good at dealing with her own emotions, much less Caradan's. That it was dredging up memories of her own that were best left forgotten didn't help. However, this conversation was important. Caradan was important to her.
Caradan let out a few laughs. “You know what the worse part about all this is?” She turned back toward the window to look outside. “Not everyone returned from that rescue mission. You all boarded that ship to rescue me.”
“I lied to all of you, exposed myself intentionally, offered them sensitive information, and did not even have the strength to fight back. So tell me this.” Caradan turned back to Riaan. Her form had taken on a shade of red. “Why am I alive? Why do I get to live where the ones who should be alive are dead? Why do the lucky ones get to be shipped home in bodybags and I get to…” she marched over and swiped her regeneration bowl from the floor, “why do I get to sleep in this?” She threw it across the room.
Caradan did not even watch what became of her regeneration bowl. She simply stared at Riaan awaiting an answer. Likewise, she wandered if it was possible for a person to hate oneself.
The bowel shattered into a dozen pieces as it hit the wall. There was a silence for a moment. Riaan moved over to where the broken pieces of pottery lay on the floor. She started to gather the pieces as she processed Caradan's words. Moving to the replicator, she ordered something and a small bottle of a liquid and what looked like gold paint appeared. She sat the pieces down on the table and sat on the rarely used couch.
She took a moment to calm the emotions that were welling up in her. "You betrayed us." She said quietly, there wasn't any hate in the words, just calm recognition of the facts.
There came a small bout with hesitation. She wanted to say ‘No’ but that would have been a lie even if a simply explanation would make it sound like the truth. This was the time for truths and she was truthful thusfar.
“Yes,” said Caradan. “I did.” She did not sound apologetic. “My only desire at that moment was to have that device turned off. But, and this did not even cross my mind, but the Klingon captain told me the Tornado would reconfigure its shield modulation the second you learned I was captured.” Caradan shrugged. “It would not have mattered if I had given them the modulation. But…Yes. I did offer if to them. Yes, I betrayed you all. All for a few moments of comfort, which they did not buy into I might reiterate.”
Perhaps that would pile some outside loathing on top of Caradan’s self-loathing. All this somehow felt right.
Riaan nodded, she had been there. At the point where she would have done anything just for a moment of respite. Respite that never came. There hadn't been many points as intense as Caradan's experience. However, weeks and months were their own sort of intensity.
She sorted through the broken pieces of pottery, organizing them into how they would have been with the bucket. It was slow going, but Riaan was not in a rush. "There is a old Bajoran tradition that I learned while I was recovering. It's found in other cultures as well. It's about how to repair something that's broken."
Caradan tried to break in with, “You are insinuating that I am…”
She gestured at the pieces, "The first step is to put the pieces into order. Make sure that you have all of the important bits and how they relate to each other."
Riaan traced a line with her finger between two pieces. "This crack is you lying to me." She did the same with another two pieces. "This crack is your betrayal of your oath as an officer." She gestured to cracks as she continued. "This is your cowardice. This is where they took something good and tainted it. This is not even fighting back. This is being unworthy of rescue. This is the fact that you broke so easily..." Riaan had more to say, but her emotions overcame her. She choked up, trying not to cry. She waved her hand over all of them. "This is a monument to all your sins."
Caradan felt herself awash with anger and a hate of herself so powerful that she nearly wanted Riaan to hate her as well. But that was not happening. She was swimming in an ocean of self-loathing and could have easily swam out further, finding something, anything to say or do to send Riaan balling and running for the door. So much loathing that it had almost a sobering effect.
“And,” it was still there but waning just a bit for her to continue, “putting this back together is only one step among an unknown number. Right?”
Riaan nodded with a small smile. "Right. After the Dominion war, I spent years as a slave." Riaan paused, they were not pleasant memories. "My masters were not gentle." She summarized with a huge understatement. Agonizers were designed to work without leaving permanent marks if used a few times on someone. Riaan had several agonizer scars. "It's over a decade later, and I'm still running into shrapnel. A third of my life so far, and it's not going to go away. I get better at coping, but that's just it, coping. It is still there, lurking under the surface."
She considered the pieces for a moment, "I love you Caradan, and that means that I'm going to try to do what is best for you." She picked up two pieces and fitted them together and nodded. "This is you lying to me." She put it the two pieces to the side and pulled the small dish with the cementing agents on it. "You have to be patient with this part, if you don't get it right, the piece won't set right." She explained as she started to mix the agents together.
Caradan sat and looked at the jigsaw puzzle that used to be her regeneration bowl. “So, it would be impatient and unwise to seek immediate healing. Is that what you are saying?” Caradan did not expect an answer. She looked directly to her replicator. Replicating a new bowl would have been an instantaneous yet empty victory. Her bowl, her broken bowl which was not made from repurposed energies would still be broken, no matter where in the universe she left its remains.
She found three pieces as Riaan continued her work. There was a large fragment, a medium-sized one, and a smaller one. Caradan gathered them together to make sure their edges lined up.
As she mixed, she started to explain. "Caradan, I might have lost Ziara the other day. I still don't know what has happened to her. You knew that I would have difficulties if you didn't make it back, and you decided to hare off on your crazy plan without telling me. If you had told me, I could have helped, I could have done... something. But you didn't trust me with the truth. You should have trusted me not just as your girlfriend, but as the one person most qualified to help you maximize your abilities while you did that." There was a growing sad kind of anger in her voice. And she seemed to be taking out some of her aggression in mixing the ingredients. "You broke the trust I put in you, and that hurts."
Somehow, Caradan felt that simply apologizing was not enough. Besides, her pain resulting in a desire to find some physical representation of the universe and to run her fist through it overshadowed and overpowered any feeling of sorrow. She wanted to find that physical representation and let the entirety of space know her name and the pain it dealt. Yet, running a fist through things generally lead to inflicted pain and the woman sitting across the table from Caradan was the first person she could think of that did not deserve any additional inflicted pain.
“Then let me earn that trust again.” As she rotated the three pieces to ensure their alignment, “I am not supposed to inform the crew yet, but we are not heading back to Earth. We are going straight to the Martian shipyards where this ship will be decommissioned. ‘Too much action for a science vessel’ Starfleet Command has determined.” She found how the three pieces went together and held of the medium-sized piece. “This is my promise to you.” She slid it against the larger piece of her shattered bowl. She placed her finger on the smaller piece. Its size reflected its importance to Caradan but it was still gravely important to the whole. “To help you find Ziara.” She looked up at Riaan. “I did say after this mission is over, then I am yours.” She slid to the other two where all three fit nicely.
Riaan painted the edges with the cementing agents and pressed the pieces together. "I'll make sure you get that chance. With time and effort, what is broken can be fixed. You are mine, but I'm yours as well. We'll get through this together." The cementing agent set and the pieces were back together, there were more pieces to put back into place.
“Since we will be in the area,” Caradan sifted through more pieces of her broken bowl, “I need you to help me with some unfinished business in San Francisco.” Caradan continued without a drop of hesitation nor a drop of shame. “Did I ever tell you about Commodore Jacques Villeneuve?”
Riaan shook her head, thinking for a moment. "No, although I might have heard the name at the Academy. Ziara came back to the dorm pissed about some high ranking officer disrespecting a study partner at the Academy. Or something. It could have been someone else though. It's been a while."
Caradan recalled when she mentioned this to Mindo. She had a time getting the words out. Now, she had no trouble at all. It was time for the truth to come out and for all to hear. Besides, the things he did to her amounted to nothing when compared to what she endured at the hands of the Klingons. Those Klingons were dead. And now it was time for Villeneuve to pay the price as well.
"Back at the Academy," Caradan began. She looked up at Riaan and had a glimpse of her own future. She too would be someone who had become broken and shattered and would spend unknown lengths of time picking up the pieces and reassembling them. "There was a man, Lieutenant Colonel Villeneuve. He would soon be demoted by the way. He took a special interest in me." Caradan's thoughts flowed like water as she detailed the incident.
Riaan listened, taking what Caradan said and putting it into the back of her mind. It was a very different experience then then one that Riaan had. Riaan's experience had been brutal, and there had been zero choice in the matter. "So how do you feel about it?" She asked softly.
All the while she had spoken, Caradan was trying to find more pieces of her regeneration bowl to fit together. As her focus was not entirely on that task, she found none. But, she finally found two that seemed to fit together as Riaan asked her question. “I feel,” she slid them together and looked up to Riaan, “that it is time to stop being quiet. To bring him down and to begin healing. For me and anyone else he’s hurt.”